Searching for the Anthropological Foundations of Economic Practice: Controversies and Opportunities

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This chapter appeared in: G. J. van Nes et al. (eds.), Relational Anthropology for Contemporary Economics. Dordrecht: Springer, 121-132. Abstract: This chapter is a comment on the contribution of Rebecca Klein in this volume, preceded by a conceptual analysis of the argument that is developed in the Homo Amans position paper. The main question that is raised is twofold and concerns the relation between science and worldview on the one hand, and between science and economic life on the other. With respect to the science – worldview relationship, it is doubted that science can play the role the authors of the Homo Amans project expect it can have. What they have in mind is that science helps in validating and legitimizing a biblically informed concept of love. This author disagrees, to a large extent. Science can indeed orient itself on ideas and intuitions that are based on one’s worldview. But it cannot prove the truth of these intuitions and ideas. To think so, is to commit a naturalistic fallacy. With respect to the relationship between science and economic life, the author is also not convinced that science and philosophy as academic disciplines will by themselves be able (and should be expected to be able) to transform deeply ingrained, institutionally anchored economic practices. New theories, concepts, and paradigms are a precondition for change, but they do not bring about change by themselves. What is needed is a change in the practices themselves, a change that is both personal and comprehensive. What is needed is a clear, succinct, and encompassing view on the intrinsic normativity of economic interactions between relevant stakeholders in what we call ‘the’ economy. This is a huge undertaking, that requires painstaking ‘phenomenological’ analyses of a wide variety of economic practices. The chapter agrees with most of Klein’s observations and concerns with respect to the position paper. These observations and concerns gain even more depth and relief given the conceptual distinctions that are made in the chapter.

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Gerrit Glas
VU University Amsterdam


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